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Kaiser mental health therapists head back to work Tuesday after a six-month strike

By Sunshine Kuhia Smith

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    MAUI, Hawaii (KITV) — After walking the picket lines for nearly six months, Kaiser Permanente mental health therapists voted Saturday evening to ratify a contract that increases wages and restores patient care.

Nearly 60 psychologists, social workers, nurses, and counselors went on strike on August 29, which became the longest strike by mental healthcare workers in U.S. history.

The vote ends years-long contract negotiations between Kaiser and the National Union of Healthcare Workers. The contract provisions include the following:

3 percent wage increase in 2023 and 2024 and 2 percent in 2025 Retirement safeguards for new hires An extra $1.50 for bilingual therapists to help non-English speaking patients While the employees are grateful to return to work Tuesday, the contract does not address the critical staffing shortage at Kaiser clinics across the state.

“I have mixed feelings right now. Part of me is very glad to go back to work–to get back to my calling and see my patients, ” says Rachel Kaya, a psychologist for Kaiser on Maui. “But also the lingering disappointments towards the executive management of Kaiser. I have some concerns that their promises of hiring enough staff to take care of the mental health needs of Hawaii are not going to come to pass.”

Kaya thanks the community for the support and contribution to their strike fund. Unfortunately, for some therapists, 172 days of no income made it difficult to stay.

“We are ending this contract with fewer staff than what we started the strike with, despite Kaiser promising its accrediting body to hire 11 new staff per year. So obviously, in the last year, in 2022, hiring the additional 11 staff did not happen. So we are minus than what we started with.”

On Thursday, after an announcement of a tentative contract was reached, in a statement, Kaiser Permanente wrote:

Kaiser Permanente has the deepest appreciation and gratitude for our mental health professionals and the extraordinary care they provide to our members, so we are pleased to have reached a tentative agreement with NUHW.

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